Honolulu Claire Manzer McKeldin (1900-1988)
MSA SC 3520-2291
First Lady of Maryland, 1951-1959
Honolulu Claire Manzer McKeldin was the wife of Theodore R. McKeldin (1900-1974), the fifty-third governor of Maryland, serving in office from 1951-1959. She was born in Binghamton, New York and graduated from the Maryland Institute in Costume Design. Mrs. McKeldin met her future husband while they were both working in a bank in Baltimore. They were married on October 17, 1924, during his last year in law school. They settled into an unassuming home in a quiet area of Baltimore, where they lived for most of their married lives. The McKeldins had two children, Theodore R. McKeldin, Jr., and Clara Whitney (McKeldin) Zeigler.
During her husband's term as Mayor of Baltimore from 1943-1947, Mrs. McKeldin served as a nutritionist for the Red Cross and worked regularly in the annual Flower Mart of the Women's Civic League. A prize-winning gardener, she also enjoyed drawing and painting still lifes and landscapes.
Upon becoming First Lady of Maryland in 1951, Mrs. McKeldin asserted in an interview with The Evening Capital that she while she anticipated an enjoyable tenure in Annapolis, she planned to avoid the "public eye" and focus her energies on her home and family (Teddy was 14 and Clara 11 when the family moved into Government House). "When your husband is in politics," she said, "I think it's just as well for the wife to keep in the background and let him do all the talking. That way she can't make any mistakes for him."1
One would not have guessed, however, that this was her intention judging by the list of activities with which Mrs. McKeldin became involved while in Annapolis. She was an honorary member of the Naval Academy Women's Club and frequently attended its meetings; on one such occasion she received First Lady Mamie Eisenhower when she made the trip from Washington, D.C. to Annapolis in order to address the members of the Club.2 Mrs. McKeldin's other memberships included the Women's Division of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Women's Auxiliary to the Salvation Army, the Women's Civic League of Baltimore, the Women's Auxiliary to Anne Arundel General Hospital, the Empty Stocking Club, the Free Arts Club, and the Homeland Garden Club, where she served as treasurer.
In April, 1952, Governor and Mrs. McKeldin took a month-long trip to Europe and the Middle East in which they combined business with pleasure. During that trip, the McKeldins lunched with General and Mrs. Eisenhower at their villa outside Paris, met Pope Pius XII in Rome and spent Easter in Jerusalem. While in Israel, the McKeldins took a day trip to the mines at Elath, near the Red Sea. In order to get there, they had to endure a bumpy jeep ride over twenty-five miles of sand, which Mrs. McKeldin weathered while dressed for a tea planned for later that day, holding on to her hat and trying not to bounce out of the jeep. "Now I've seen everything," declared Mrs. McKeldin to The Evening Capital upon her return to Annapolis.3
Another highlight of Mrs. McKeldin's term as First Lady of Maryland was the visit to Annapolis on November 8, 1954 of Queen Elizabeth of England, the Queen Mother. The McKeldins escorted the Queen Mother in a tour of colonial Annapolis that included the State House, St. Anne's Church, and the Naval Academy. Local schools closed early to permit schoolchildren to join the thousands of Annapolitans who lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the Queen Mother as she and the McKeldins greeted the crowds. The McKeldins then enjoyed traditional Maryland fare at a luncheon with the queen and her entourage in Government House.
A collector of old jewelry and antiques, Mrs. McKeldin enjoyed attending antique shows with her husband. As First Lady, Mrs. McKeldin acquired several pieces of silver for Government House, including a tea and coffee service currently displayed in the State Dining Room.
Notes on sources
Return to biographical profile
© Copyright Maryland State Archives